We went to a wedding reception last fall for one of my second cousins — a particular branch of the family I hadn't seen since 1991. It was a very nice spread in a nice hotel hall, with food and a bar and dancing. They did all the traditional white wedding stuff: goofy bridesmaid introductions, cake cutting, frat guy buddies giving speeches. And then the father of the groom got to say his piece.
The father of the groom in this case was a large man with a lot of money and the main reason we were all sitting there. He was entitled to his airtime so he gave his rap — the usual stuff I'd heard before from men in this position on the nuances of getting along: say I love you every day, don't go to bed angry, if the other person cooks do it yourself once in a while, etc. I started to roll my eyes because I'm a wiseass, but I stopped. A sign of maturity. This guy should have his say because he's done the full trip, I thought. He didn't give up and neither did his wife. That should mean something.
After this, we watched my second cousin dancing with her own father — a good man I've always liked. It was impossible not to flash forward and think of me in this same position with my daughter. I'll never demand my kids get married, but I'm not going to lie and say it wouldn't please me, if just to experience this symbolic passage and have a few moments to contemplate all the years that lead up to it in a relaxed setting, a glass of wine in hand.
What would I say to my son or daughter and his/her significant other on such a day? I guess I've still got time to develop my thoughts, but I know what the gist will be:
Fight for it.
Things are very nice here at the wedding right now, and we're all feeling good about love —about yours and about love in general. But there will come a time, more than once, when it will all seem the opposite, when some great hand will pull a string and all the spats, hard words, hurt feelings, insecurities, botched responsibilities, personal weaknesses and bad personality traits align in a row, giving the appearance of a negative sum for the whole enterprise.
That's when you have to fight for it. It requires you to each look at yourselves and for the both of you to look at your situation, talk about it and see a way forward. If you sit next to your significant other on the couch and both do the most boring individual things possible and still believe there's nothing you'd rather be doing with anyone else in the world at that moment, then you are in love. Real love. And you fight for that.
Last night I drove up to Sauganash — a pretty, whitebread neighborhood that with much guilt we have some designs on moving to, depending on certain factors. Erika takes the kids there for tumbling lessons in a gymnasium on the grounds of an old TB sanitarium converted to a forest preserve, so that's where I went. The only place I knew. As I turned off Pulaski I spotted a female deer standing very calmly in the grass past the empty guardhouse — I hadn't seen one in years. I pulled up and extinguished my lights. I thought she would run but she didn't — just ate some grass and looked at me. In no hurry, she walked around behind my car and then into the woods, so very fluid and relaxed.
I wondered then if deer mate for life. It seems like they would, the male and female are so lithe and look so beautiful together. But then again herd-type animals generally don't. Do they? Maybe I was mistaken. I tried to think of other creatures that paired this way but could only come up with some kinds of aquatic birds.
The car was now parked and I stood with the door open drinking a very warm diet ginger ale taken from the trunk. The sky was moving quickly in thatched clouds, a precursor to a great storm. I felt the wind and closed my eyes. I had done the right thing for the peace of the house, but it was also melodramatic. The kids were asleep and my mother-in-law was undoubtedly speaking with my wife. I was at least glad they were there together.
Such a natural scene in the big city washed over and cooled me, but questions still persisted: Why is life often so hard? Why do I feel so weak at times and at others invincible? At what point does the "we" become the "I" and self-survival takes over? Also: Do my new tenants think I'm absolutely insane? I sometimes sound like it.
Instinctively I knew my internal reverie should end. Be sensible and go home, said the voice. I got in the car and headed back to the Edens. A bit of a romantic, I secretly wished for a Hollywood touch though reality is often a miser with these. I looked at my dark, silent phone and frowned — the power was off, naturally. Switching it on, I saw four texts sitting there from my wife. I knew she was trying her hardest to stay awake for me. I hit the gas and did 90 at the junction, up and over the highway hill.
I hope that when I'm sitting there someday in a hotel hall, I'll remember last night and other nights like it. I'd like to be able to laugh and turn it into a not-maudlin epigram about marriage and fatherhood when I'm asked to stand and speak. Or at least say it to the young couple in a less theatrical moment. Something like: Fight for it and you too will remember. The moments when you took it on the chin from nature itself and kept swinging.